The Hidden Obstacle to our Honor

Think about the last time someone told you ‘no’ – personal or business. It could have been in response to anything you have asked for that you cared about – assistance, understanding, some kind attention, or even a discount – reasonable requests in your mind.
But the answer was ‘no’.
If you took the time to even bother to relect on your last serious’no’ from someone, it is probably not a pleasant memory – might even upset you now to think about it. Were you angry or irritated or did you feel sad or even ashamed?
If you accepted the no, and went along with it, you probably felt hurt, sad or weak.
If you did not accept it, you probably felt angry and showed it, maybe bullied or tantrumed, or even lied to get your way.
Whichever way we go, hearing ‘no’ tends to put most of us in quite a bind emotionally.
I have observed that most of us go to great lengths to avoid hearing ‘no’ and these feelings. We hate the bind. We feel shame about being stuck in it. We agree that others should be ashamed when they are in the same bind. Rather than simply hear no and work with it, we compromise quickly and/or manipulate instead, rushing ourselves or others to doomed agreements. We can’t see ‘no’ as simply a decision. We won’t see the effort to continue to seek agreement as honorable activity in and of itself, even if agreement is not reached. We rush to the agreement so we can get out of the shameful shadow of no. We also don’t want to shame others, so we avoid telling them no even when great harm is going to be the likely result.
I see his as a weakness in our culture that adds to unnecessary human suffering at all levels. Past cultural practices that were clearly immoral such as the enslavement of people of African descent and dueling with pistols were rooted in taking away people’s right and responsibility to hear and say no and negotiate for what they wanted. See Kwame Anthony Appiah’s excellent treatment of these topics in his book, The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen. . Our great reluctance to engage with ‘no’ in our interactions makes us susceptible to exploitation by others and to be exploitive ourselves. The freedom to disagree and make efforts to reach agreements in our own way is essential to the dignity and sustainable progress of human beings. Failure to exercise that freedom leads to the disintegration of social cooperation at all levels. Our fear of interacting with each other in more authentic ways prevents us from better exposing the elements of our shared problems that are simply not solvable in isolation from each other. It creates a paranoid culture whose members suffer from a constantly nagging sense of danger and worry that they are not doing enough to protect themselves.
This entire situation is fortified by an honor code that dictates that putting yourself in a position where you are told no is tantamount to a sort of social death. We either stubbornly ‘go it alone’ or ‘go along’ full of resentment.

But there is an alternative. We can learn to relate to being told no, or saying no, differently. We can see it instead as an opportunity to negotiate. Careful study of negotiation reveals its definitions, principles, and rules. Negotiation has not been given proper respect by highly esteemed academics to the point where they have even tried to change its definition to put it in sync with the curiously destructive honor system that has developed around being told no. The folks at Camp have made available to us a knowledge base and opportunity for learning that can elevate our encounters with no to a more evolved level of human interaction. Respect, honesty and transparency can become the order of the day. Since only stable, ethical, and profitable agreements can provide the necessary foundation for a better society and world, we have a moral obligation to elevate negotiation, our response to no, to a place of honor in our collective psyche.

The real dishonor is not in being told no or in saying no. The real dishonor is in not rising to the challenge that being told ‘no’ presents by responding with our best effort to seek agreement. Any effort to negotiate that is respectful ought to be celebrated by our society. We should praise each other and especially our children for such effort. Quick and shoddy agreements that are rushed into out of a fear of hearing no should be sources of shame and embarrassment.
Instead these shoddy agreements are celebrated. We refer to these hurried compromises as the unavoidable costs of doing business, or of being married, or of being parents, or of being in politics. We call each other ‘practical’ and ‘tough’. No way. These are costs of being lazy, cowardly, unimaginative and stale. We can do better. We must, or we risk being looked back on with shame by future generations. Time to restore honor to our interactions.


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